Mike Woodson and his Knicks’ team have had a successful, albeit up-and-down, season so far. They wanted to be leading the Atlantic Divison: they did it! They needed ‘Melo playing at an elite-level: check! They wanted to be one of the top rated defensive teams in the league: not happening.
The same team that started off nearly perfect defensively has slipped to having the 11th worst opponent field goal percentage with opponents averaging almost 46% against them. The offense hasn’t been splendid either, as the ball has stopped moving like it once did, and as a result three-pointers made seems to have gone down. Long story short, Mike Woodson has his hands full if he wants to make this team championship contenders.
It has to start with defense. This is not the same team that started the season defensively. People may want to blame it on Amar’e Stoudemire or Carmelo Anthony, both of whom have reputations as subpar defenders, but they’re not the problem. The Knicks’ have been terrible defending the perimeter, and that ineptitude has begun to effect the pick-and-roll defense as well.
The guards in the backcourt are constantly asking for help on defense, which drags the big men away from the paint, and opens up the back door. If the help doesn’t come, the opposing team’s guard has been effective at shooting over our players. In the pick-and-roll there is far too much switching that creates favorable mismatches for the opponent.
In the last 3 games, shooting guard Alan Anderson had 26 points for the Raptors, Jamal Crawford and Chris Paul had 27 and 25 respectively for the Clippers, and T-Wolve Luke Ridnour scored 20. While you may be able to look past Paul or Crawford, it is unacceptable for guards like Ridnour and Anderson to go off on a team like that.
Felton is returning from 5 weeks off with a fractured pinky, but is playing hard and will figure out his defense. Jason Kidd’s age gives him an excuse, but he is still leading the team in steals with 1.7 per game. Look for him to be fresh after the much needed All-Star break. Surprisingly, Iman Shumpert seems to be a big question mark. When Ronnie Brewer was occupying the Shump’s spot, the team was at its best and firing on all cylinders. Brewer lost his job after he lost his jumper, and Shumpert’s return from ACL surgery was met with optimism after his impressive showing last season. However, he has underperformed, and has looked slow on both sides of the ball. Hopefully, he will return after the break with something to prove after trade rumors reportedly bothered him.
Mike Woodson needs to address these defensive issues. He may have to consider playing Ronnie Brewer more minutes, but that would require Brewer being able to at least hit an open shot when needed. Woodson has said that he thinks what the team needs is practice and teaching time, so if that’s all it will take, then expect a new-and-improved team to hit the floor against the Pacers on the 20th.
What could also help is the return of big man depth. Rasheed Wallace and Marcus Camby are expected to be coming closer to returning after the break, and hopefully will help on the glass as well as clean up some of Amar’e's defensive mistakes. Keep in mind, however, that Wallace has been rumored to be returning before, and up till now that has always resulted in a bust.
Mike Woodson’s other main concern should be the offense. The Knicks rank 29th in assists, while simultaneously ranking 9th in points per game. An offense that runs through ‘Melo should score a lot of points, and will most likely not involve a lot of ball movement, but is that the recipe for success?
The offense has become very simple. First, Raymond Felton will dribble the ball up the court, see if he can make a play with the pick-and-roll, and if he can’t he may take a poor shot, or pass to ‘Melo. Then, ‘Melo may work in the post and ultimately end up scoring, or the opponent may double the ball out of his hands. Whoever he passes to is supposed to hit a three, and if that three misses, Tyson Chandler is expected to clean up. A good defense knows that you hardly ever can take ‘Melo out of a game, but you can make it so that all of the role players are neutralized, and that has been proven to lead to losses for the Knicks.
Mike Woodson needs to get others involved more in the second half. The team could run more screens for struggling J.R. Smith and Steve Novak. Their struggles are completely different, but both could benefit from the same solution. Novak is continuing his amazing shooting (45% for 2nd best in the league), but defenses won’t let him get open, and therefore take him out of the game. J.R. is simply on a cold streak, which results in him over dribbling the ball into a terrible shot attempt.
Coach Woody should run some more plays for some of the key role players in order to help them get into a groove. Everyone and their brother knows it’s ‘Melo’s offense when he’s hot or the game is on the line, but the team was winning earlier this season when players were open and the ball was moving.
Mike Woodson and this team have proven that they can compete with the best in the league (they boast a 2-0 record against the defending champs). All-Star break is the time for them to begin the return to their elite level, and shut up the haters. Carmelo Anthony needs to be reenergized. Amar’e Stoudemire needs to continue learning defense for the first time in his career. Tyson needs to do Tyson. As for Mike Woodson, he needs to find a nice beach to relax, take in the sites, and slowly figure out how he is going to transform this team into the champions that the posters of the Larry O’Brien Trophy in the locker room say we should be.